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A spirit that is not afraid

Green Jr. embracing role as Auburn's leader

<p>Wendell Green Jr. addresses the media as one of Auburn's two representatives at the SEC Tipoff for men's basketball on Oct. 19.</p>

Wendell Green Jr. addresses the media as one of Auburn's two representatives at the SEC Tipoff for men's basketball on Oct. 19.

Among the roster shifts of losing starters to the NBA Draft and adding transfers, there is uncertainty around Auburn men’s basketball. Wendell Green Jr. is the calm among that storm.

The junior guard, a transfer last season from Eastern Kentucky University who settled in as a critical sixth man for the Tigers, has become the foundation on which the new team will develop. 

Program veterans like Jaylin Williams, Chris Moore and Allen Flanigan have carved out their roles over time. Newcomers like Tre Donaldson, Yohan Traore and Johni Broome have arrived on the Plains and must adjust to their new program. 

Two other transfers from last year, Zep Jasper and K.D. Johnson, are a pair who quickly found their place in the Auburn rotation. The final name among that list of players who will need to contribute is Green Jr. 

He was one of two Auburn representatives for the SEC Tipoff, a day of media events preceding basketball season. Johnson was slated to attend but the team announced that he would be absent due to a "viral eye infection," so Williams was called to attend instead. 

In head coach Bruce Pearl’s comments prior to the player’s interviews, he restated previous information that the team had one determined starter and competitions everywhere else.

“Our great strength is I’ve got 13 really good players,” Pearl said. “There is great competition and depth at every position. If I had to put out a starting five right now, I can tell you that really, truly, there’s only one position of the five where I know who’s going to start.”

At the team's Pro Day last week, Pearl indicated that he had two starters in his mind, but since then has narrowed that down to one. That one guy seems to be Green Jr. 

“I feel like I've earned that role. I work hard. I'm leading guys. I'm a leader on this team. I feel like I'm a vet,” Green Jr. said. “A lot of guys come to me for questions on plays or anything, off-the-court stuff. I feel like that's kind of my role now. Last year, everything was new to me. Going to Tennessee, I'm looking, like, 'Wow, this is crazy.' But now, I'm more poised. I'm more relaxed.”

With that comfort in his own role, the guard has a firm perspective on the team’s identity this year. Now in his second season on the Plains, Green Jr. played with a record-breaking team last season and can see the differences in what this year’s team will bring. 

“I think this team will be way more physical. I think we’re way older and more experienced and we’ve got four or five fours and fives that are very physical,” Green Jr. said. “Our threes are physical. I think that’s going to be the main motto of our team.”

As the season approaches and polls are released, expectations are forming around Auburn’s new team. The Tigers are ranked No. 15 in the AP’s preseason poll. No one from the team was placed on a preseason All-SEC list. 

Last year, the team won an SEC regular season title after going 16-0 in their home arena. That success, though, was not sustained through the postseason. 

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The Tigers advanced to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament before a hot Texas A&M team knocked them off, then went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in March 2022 but made their March Madness exit in that game.

“We lost two guys but everybody else came back to win a championship. We have a championship mindset on the team when we go into practice,” Green Jr. said. “We know what it takes to win a championship…and we have a lot of new guys that have followed and came along well so far.”

The question about this upcoming team is how they can emulate that success while also prolonging it in a way last year’s group was unable to do after seeming to get too good too fast. 

Despite not being a regular starter in the 2021-2022 season, Green Jr. held firm in his role. Known for his assists, minimal turnovers and wild three-point shooting, he stood out without being one of the first guys on the court. 

Green Jr. led the team in assists during their SEC games, averaging 5.4 per game and sitting at the team’s second-best scorer in those contests at 12.7 points per game. That consistency could be what impacts his 2022-2023 season, in addition to the work he puts in. Green Jr. shot .365 from the field last season while also going .844 from the free throw line. 

“I just want to continue to work on my game and be out there being more efficient, keep doing what I’m doing passing-wise. Turnovers, I think I was pretty good last year,” Green Jr. said. “Just being more efficient. I think that’s the number one thing.”

The team has had various interviews since beginning practice, but the SEC Tipoff for men’s basketball was the first time Green Jr. met with the media since before the team travelled to play in Israel over the summer. 

Since then, Green Jr. has established himself as a leader among the team by way of his intentional efforts, showing up mentally and physically in every practice. 

“Just being more vocal and showing up every day at practice. That was one of the hardest things for me, you know,” Green Jr. said. “Growing up, my dad would tell me I might take this practice off. Now, as a leader, you've got to come to practice every day at 100 percent, going hard. You're not always gonna play the best, but you've got to show that you're having a good day, even when you're having a bad day.”

With that mentality and what Pearl says to be stiff competitions at the slots that have yet to be decided, Auburn has a lot to look forward to. 

Next on the schedule, the Tigers have a secret scrimmage against UAB on Sunday, Oct. 23, with games truly beginning Nov. 2 when UAH travels to Neville Arena for an exhibition. 

Callie Stanford | Sports Editor

Callie Stanford, junior in communications, is the sports editor at the Auburn Plainsman. Currently a junior, she has been with The Plainsman since January 2021.

Twitter: @Stanford1Callie

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